At UW-Eau Claire, student Chandler Roberts has found something he’d long been searching for: a community where he feels supported in his identities within the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual) community.
“As a Blugold, the university’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center has provided me with a community that I previously lacked,” Roberts said. “I have been interning with the resource center for about two years now, and I’ve made so many connections with a variety of students, faculty and staff who have given me a sense of validation in my identities. It is extremely comforting to see so many support the LGBTQ+ community here on campus.”
Recently, that supportive campus environment earned UW-Eau Claire recognition as the best college for LGBTQ students in Wisconsin.
The recognition comes from BestColleges.com, which partnered with Campus Pride in releasing its list of “Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students in Every State.” BestColleges.com is a recognized national publisher of college rankings and other student resources, and Campus Pride is the country’s leading nonprofit organization working to create more LGBTQ-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities.
UW-Eau Claire’s newest LGBTQ-friendly recognition follows a No. 3 national ranking in May on College Choice’s 2017 “50 Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students” list.
Campuswide collaboration is key
Dr. Tamara Johnson, UW-Eau Claire's assistant chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, said these recognitions reflect a UW-Eau Claire campus community that is supportive of efforts to be inclusive of those who have historically been marginalized.
"This is very exciting news and while definitely a reflection of the leadership and vision of Chris Jorgenson in our Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, this distinction is only possible with the support of university community members invested in moving forward together to ensure our campus is welcoming and inclusive for all of our students," Johnson said.
UW-Eau Claire was selected for the recent best-in-Wisconsin honor based on BestColleges.com’s academic quality and affordability measures as well as a vetting process by a panel of experts from Campus Pride.
"To have achieved this ranking speaks to the collaborative efforts on the part of faculty, staff, administrators and students to ensure that UW-Eau Claire is a safe and welcoming campus for LGBTQIA+ people,” said Jorgenson, the university’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center director.
Kallie Friede, a 2017 UW-Eau Claire graduate, interned in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center as an undergraduate student and now serves there as a graduate assistant while pursuing a master’s degree in student affairs through UW-La Crosse. Her work in the resource center has been as an ally.
"For me, a lot of the support I've received through the center has been in learning about my privilege, deconstructing my worldview and learning how I navigate the world quite differently because of my identities," Friede said. "Chris was incredibly patient with my learning and was consistent in calling me into important conversations when I was exercising my privilege in harmful ways — and still does that for me as a graduate student."
Friede agreed that UW-Eau Claire’s successes in providing LGBTQIA+ support have been possible because of Jorgenson’s leadership in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center as well as support from administration and other offices on campus.
“When I talk to students, I think a large part of our success is that our programming and our office isn’t an afterthought,” she said. “The support for our work allows us to be visible and to do impactful things for students.”
The work continues
Jorgenson noted that while UW-Eau Claire’s most recent honor for LGBTQIA+ support is cause for celebration, it also serves as a reminder of the work yet to be done.
“The safety and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people is only possible by engaging in anti-racist, trans-positive work, such that all students, faculty and staff succeed at UW-Eau Claire,” Jorgenson said. “We are committed to that work and hope to continually live up to this new ranking."
Through connections at UW-Eau Claire, Roberts attended the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference and was able to speak with other LGBTQIA+ college students from around the region. Roberts discovered that many universities lack resource centers like UW-Eau Claire’s and struggle to get appropriate funding and support from administration.
“Thankfully, our university is working to find out how to make our campus inclusive for all students by listening to our concerns and needs, and that cannot be taken for granted,” said Roberts, who then echoed Jorgenson’s caveat about the continued work ahead: “I would add that although we’ve received this recognition in Wisconsin, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for necessary improvement to further the environment for the LGBTQ+ community here, but I am hopeful UW-Eau Claire will continue to move forward.”